Forests are extremely biodiverse environments that provide a habitat for many animal and plant species. The IAEA contributes to the protection of these valuable ecosystems by developing science-based solutions to monitor and track resources, for example by providing reference materials that can be used to source products such as timber. 

Forests provide many valuable ecosystem services, including the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, they are increasingly put under stress by industrial pollution and other human activities, such as logging. 

Protecting the biodiversity of forests

Logging for tropical species and expanding large-scale agricultural activities in Asia and Latin America are destroying hundreds of acres of endangered tropical rainforest every day. There is also a thriving international trade in illegally logged timber, with far-reaching environmental and economic consequences. To verify whether timber has been harvested sustainably, trustworthy information on the exact source of the wood is needed. International timber eco-certifications, albeit increasingly applied, are not always reliable because they sometimes lack such dependable information.

As part of its work to help preserve the biodiversity of forests, the IAEA offers training to its Member States on the use of nuclear and isotopic techniques for monitoring programmes, and provides them with reference materials that can help with determining the origin of products. To reinforce these monitoring programmes, the Agency also helps develop analytical methods and provides training on the use of stable isotopes that can be used to verify the geographical origin of imported wood.

The IAEA is also developing stable isotope wood standards to support such analytical techniques. Light element stable isotopes, particularly of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, have long been employed to authenticate the origin of a variety of economically important organic materials. In the case of wood, its hydrogen isotopic composition reflects the characteristic hydrogen isotopic signal of rainfall in the location where the tree was grown.  

Helping identify and monitor pollution

Pollution is another source of environmental stress placed on forests, threatening key habitats and species. Radioactive and hazardous substances, such as toxic trace elements, persistent organic compounds (including pesticides and industrial chemicals) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (chemicals produced during the burning of coal, oil, gasoline or other organic substances), released from industrial, agricultural and mining activities into the environment, accumulate in organisms. This degrades the ecosystem’s resilience and has a severe impact on biodiversity.

To tackle such challenges, the IAEA provides training on best practices for soil, vegetation and biota sampling (collecting of organisms), to enhance environmental risk assessment tools. The Agency also offers to Member States its expertise on the migration of radionuclide contaminants in soils, forests and lakes to help with remediation and environmental monitoring activities. 

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